Life’s a Box of Chocolates…

Life’s a Box of Chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get, so said Forest Gump.  Life is all about choices and as expats we have chosen to get on that flight, or in that car and move to a different country, culture, climate and community. 


So once here, have we found the elusive happiness that should come with a life choice?  Or do you spend time thinking about how much happier you would be if you had made different personal choices.  Experts say the key to life satisfaction is appreciation and gratitude of what you have, rather than persistently aspiring to something out of reach.


Grass is greener … where you water it!


Research by Cardiff University in 2007 found that, in general, people were happier during the 1930 Great Depression than they are now regardless of uncertainty for the future and financial worries. 


The happiest people don’t HAVE the best of everything; they MAKE the best of everything.


A year after life changing events, lottery winners were equally as happy as people who had suffered a personal trauma (taken from Harvard Research).  Scary findings – belief that an outside influence will make us happy would, on the face of it, appear untrue.  The material and physical trappings of life really don’t make us “happy”.  What’s more crucial is to love the circumstances we land in.


So what of expat happiness?


New research commissioned by NatWest International and carried out by the Centre for Future Studies explored happiness from the expat perspective and deduced that, crisis or not, Expats are happier than ever.


With the advent of the Internet we can stay more connected with our families and friends in our home countries and feel less ‘alienated’.  Brits are now “finding it easier to ‘up sticks’ and move or travel thanks to the plethora of Internet tools available,” said Dave Isley, head of NatWest International Personal Banking.


So what does bring happiness, or contentment?


Happiness and contentment are both emotions (as are sadness, love, hate, curiosity, excitement, depression etc.)  All emotions have causes.  The emotion of happiness is not caused by simply gaining “things”.   Dr. Robert Holden, director of the UK’s Happiness Project, says chasing specific goals in search of happiness is a bad move.  However he argues that these goals can give you a short-term happiness feeling (going for and getting a new job, buying those shoes, taking that holiday) without a long-term affect. 

Contentment is a constant state and independent of what is happening in the outside world.  It’s not a fleeting emotion, but underpinned by an understanding of who and what you really are and making peace with yourself.


NatWest’s Dave Isley also commented that, the data showed that the global financial crisis had “failed to dampen the spirits of expats, who seem to have adopted the ‘keep calm, carry on’ philosophy” … A better lifestyle is sought by nearly eight out ten who are looking to leave the UK.


Spain, with its reported 940,000[1] Brits, fair far better than their counterparts in the UK.  Age positive charity WRVS claims Britain has becoming one of the loneliest places in Europe to grow old according to their study of the European Social Survey. With half a million children across the UK cited as “unhappy with their lives”, according to a study from The Children’s Society.


Lloyds TSB International said: “Much has been made of the gloomy economic outlook in Spain and the government’s austerity programme, but despite this stream of bad news, British expats think their financial prospects are better there than in the UK. But more importantly, it seems a good quality of life, perhaps including the sunny weather and the laidback Mediterranean lifestyle, are contributing to Spain’s place as number one for general happiness.”


Whether we, as expats, are happier, or have managed to find contentment in our new life is a moot point.  However, regardless of the crisis and what is happening in the world outside our window, we have found ourselves on a path we have chosen.  Maybe we are learning… Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realisation of how much you already have.

Now where are those chocolates? ….                        

Ali Meehan          

(first published in Family in Spain Magazine, 4th Issue)

[1] Ranking 4th  in Quality of Life Ranking Index:  NatWest International Personal Banking,